Sunday, November 17, 2013

What happens after a fall during a run

             WASHINGTON, D.C. – This blog usually is about runs while traveling. This time, I’m writing about traveling while running.

                On a recent autumn morning, I went running with my friend Ellen on the trails in Rock Creek Park in DC. It was cool, crisp, and dry. A thick blanket of leaves covered the path, and both of us talked about it as we set off.
               We didn’t talk about its beauty, even though our path was a carpet of natural colors. Instead, we saw danger: The leaves obscured rocks and tree roots. And that, we knew from experience, meant it would be easy to trip and fall.

The Rock Creek trail cuts through miles of wood and follows a stream that roars by after hard rains and is tame the rest of the time. On this day, the water was low.
              Halfway through the run, I tripped and caught myself. Then I tripped a second time, again barely avoiding a crash. We slowed the pace a little. But I tripped again and this time I flew through the air and landed hard on the ground, falling on my right knee and thigh and stopping my momentum with both hands.

                I immediately felt pain on my right knee and left hand. My knee was bloodied. When I looked at my hand, I gulped: the base of my pinkie was nearly double in size. I thought I must have dislocated the finger. And so I yanked it. The finger popped back into place, and the bulge disappeared.
              I carefully wiggled my fingers and felt some pain. I started walking and both knees ached. But there were miles to go still, and we continued onward.

A few minutes later, I was on the ground again – a second fall. Again, I landed on my right side, sliding in the gravelly surface.
            Now the embarrassment hurt more than the wounds. How could I trip four times and fall twice in one run? Ellen tried ordering me to walk, fearing (perhaps knowing) I was about to do real damage to myself. But after a minute, we were running again.

We made it back without further falls, but I felt the after-effects for some time. I had to deal with some pain – it was hard to type for a few days, my knees ached, and my toes had turned nearly purple and were complaining. But the mental impact of the falls was far greater. For a couple of weeks afterward, I felt off-balance, as if I could fall in certain situations. I bike to work every day and I started to travel at a slower pace. For my runs, I kept to pavement. All the while, I wondered what had happened back on that run.  
            Perhaps the leaf cover was inherently dangerous – but I had tripped four times, Ellen none. Perhaps I wasn’t lifting my legs high enough (obviously true!), because I was exhausted. I buy that last explanation. I had just returned from a flight to Asia.

What’s the moral of the story?

   Not sure about that.

   Don't run in the woods after a flight from Asia? Stay off leaf-covered trails when tired? More like it. I’ll be more careful. But I bet I run again when tired. I’m too set in my ways. Falls are in my future. It’s an awful thought as I replay the crash scenes. At least I’ll know how to deal with a dislocated finger.


  1. Yikes. I am sorry to hear about the falls. The lesson here does need to be discerned before a disaster befalls you. Don't run where you can't see your footing. I say this selfishly because I don't want this wonderful blog to end. Please be carful.

  2. Wow John. Reminds me of my falls and particularly the one where I broke my ribs, also after a flight from Asia. Hmmmmm. BE CAREFUL!!

  3. Great tip on how to put your finger back in place.

    Your blog reminded me of a Mario Andretti quote: "If you are driving along and everything feels under control, than you're just not driving fast enough". Just be careful when you speed up.

  4. My wife was running in La Serena, Chile, listening to Coffee Break spanish, and fell on uneven cobbles. She spent the evening in the ER getting stitched up before her flight back. Perhaps you got off easy. Still no fun at all to fall.